Bees · Hive equipment · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Pests - Bees

50 Hives and Counting….

2019-07 New Hive Stands
New Hive Stands – July 2019

According to Hubby’s spreadsheet, 50 hives going into the spring nectar flow is the magic number at which the apiary will become financially viable, based on honey sales alone.    We weren’t there at the start of spring this year, and probably won’t harvest any more honey this year as we’re letting our hives keep their nectar to build reserves for the dearth, but with the three splits I made yesterday, we do now have 50 strong hives.

Hubby has been working on new hive stands in a sunnier location than our first site, and the above three splits are the first occupants.  We want to move all of the hives from the first site because small hive beetles thrive in the shade there and the hives are too close to the planned house site.  Contractors may not be as thrilled as we are to watch bees head to the creek or fly around making orientation flights!   Before the big migration, we want to get carpet remnants under each stand to make life difficult for small hive beetles.  We already have quality landscape fabric along the whole run because it’s more fun checking hives when you don’t have to fight blackberry vines while doing so!

2019-07 Painting
Painting for fun and function.

Talking of checking hives, I only have four left to check for this round, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to make some more splits.   But my back hurt this morning, and it was hot and humid, and I just couldn’t face suiting up!   What’s the best (productive) thing to do on a hot humid day?   Well, pressure wash hive components and paint!   I repainted some wood ware last week, and most of what was left just needed a touch up on the hive numbers, so today was a low pressure day.   When we have a bunch of hive components that are all the same color, you can be pretty sure Hubby used the paint sprayer.   When we have a mixture, I hand painted.   We need the balance between efficiency and variety otherwise we’d run out of hive bodies.  Well, I need the variety — I love to look out at a colorful bee yard.

I can also rationalize a multi-colored bee yard because it reduces drifting.  Even when we have a number of similar hives, I try to paint the hive numbers in a variety of colors and add designs that help the bees find their ways home.   I have to admit that what drives me most is the joy of making things pretty.   Hubby and the bees don’t seem to care that I only ever took one art class in high school or that my flowers rarely look like anything found in nature.   Hubby likes to see me happy, and sometimes that means painting pink flowers, and sometimes it means designing a database!

My other summer project has been an Access database.  Our Excel spreadsheet for tracking hive inspections was becoming too cumbersome, so I gave Access another shot.   That I got nowhere with Access the past two summers says a lot about my stress levels back then as almost everything is falling into place now that I am relaxed and rested.  That brings me a different kind of joy than the colorful hives, especially as it’s proving useful.  Hubby asked me how many active NUCs we have last night, and I was able to tell him with just a few mouse clicks, so he kept throwing questions at me!  I was able to answer almost all of them with minimal effort.   There are still a number of reports that I want to develop, but they won’t be a chore as I love exercising that side of my brain sometimes.

Life has been especially good this week as Hubby didn’t have to work at his day-job.   We are so blessed to be surrounded by so much beauty.   We have a constant supply of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons, and the garden will be even bigger next year.  Life really doesn’t get any better than this!

2019-07 Lily Pond

Hive equipment · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Products and Vendors

Strong hives, fewer small hive beetles.

Changes:

We’ve made a few changes this year which have led to stronger hives.   We did complete inspections on 75% of the hives at the end of last week and saw maybe 20 small hive beetles in total.   Since moving here, we’ve seen that many in the lids of the hives in the worse corner of the apiary, but even the two we have left on that hive stand are pretty much beetle-free.   We add Beetle Blasters as soon as we see beetles on the frames,  but we know from previous years that there’s only so much they can do.

The first thing we did was treat the hives with ProDFM in spring.   A little goes a long way and I was able to treat more than 10 hives with the 3.5 ounce bag we bought to experiment with.   Most hives got off to a good start and started packing in pollen and nectar as soon as it was available.   We tried a different strategy on the hives that were slower to get up to speed.

Following Ian Steppler’s methodology,  we swapped (and continue to swap) a lot more frames from strong to weak hives.  We’ve always done that, to an extent, but this year we focused on leveling the hives and delayed making any splits.  That really paid off in the long run, and the splits we made later in spring were more successful.    When we came across a hive that was really weak, we did a newspaper introduction to a hive that had space for a frame or two more bees.  Again, the short term loss of one hive led to bigger gains in the future.

We are now setting splits up with more bees and resources and are seeing  them quickly coming up to speed.  We’ve moved underpopulated 8 and 10 frame hives to NUCs and we’ve used internal feeders as place holders when we think there aren’t enough bees to manage a full contingent of frames.

Back to beetles:

After watching some of Barnyard Bees’ videos about chickens and small hive beetles, I was ready to rush out and buy some game hens and laying chickens, but we don’t have time to build a coop or a run.  Between the coyotes, the eagle, and other assorted critters, we need to protect any fowl we bring here.

David talks about chickens and small hive beetles in a few videos — chickens just love the larvae.   In one video, he dumped out a bunch of bees in the chicken pen and let the chickens go to town on the beetles — and they didn’t mess with the bees.  He also recommended setting up bug zappers to manage wax moths, so we purchased a Black Flag zapper and see dead wax moths on it every morning.   Once we get power to the shop, we’ll add at least one more.

If you go to Barnyard Bee’s YouTube channel, also check out David’s video about why some swarms contain multiple queens — it explains why we found two queens out in the open in the lower apiary on Sunday.   Yep, Hubby has converted me to a YouTube watcher!

Honey:

We moved honey extraction to the RV this weekend and pulled what we expect to be our last harvest for 2019.   The biggest advantage of being in the RV was being able to turn the a/c off there and leave it on in the house.    After extracting 5 gallons of honey using a manual-crank extractor, it sure was nice to have a cool place to go drink some water before going back to the 90+ degree space for cleanup.

While the hives are currently full of nectar, we are about to go into a dearth and the bees will need what they’ve stored.   After the dearth, they’ll need to build up stores for winter during the Goldenrod flow, so we’d have to see a lot of excess honey to pull any more this year.

Dearth:

We actually thought we were already in pollen dearth as we didn’t see any pollen coming in during evening inspections.   However, we found some common sense, stopped suiting up when temperatures were in the 90s, and went back to checking hives in the morning; suddenly we saw lots of bright yellow pollen coming in.

There is plenty of bee bread and pollen on frames.  We’ve known for years that we are more likely to see bees on buddleia and buckwheat before 10:00 a.m. and on fennel in the evening, but we needed a reminder that we can’t judge a colony by what is going on in five minutes on one day.    But we also know to anticipate a pollen dearth before a nectar dearth in July.

Water:

Bee Life Rafts - small
Life rafts in the lily pond

Our bees have the luxury of a spring-fed creek very close to the hives, but they still too often decide to risk drowning closer to home!   They are especially attracted to splashing water, so they naturally like my lily pond.   It will be safer once the water lily leaves cover a wider area, but for now I made life rafts out of pool noodle slices. They are able to drink water that has wicked up through the cells as well as drink from the pond itself.   There have been no drownings so far.   I cut between a quarter and a half in slices and then joined them with yarn — joining them together was more to keep the wind from blowing individual slices all over the yard than anything else.

Well, the sun has dried the heavy dew off my freshly painted bookshelves, so I’m going back out to see whether I need to sand and start over or just keep painting.   Impatience got the best of me again, but I just had to see if the paint really looked as pretty on my classroom furniture as it did on the card!

 

 

Cooking · Home Remedies · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Pests - Bees · Products and Vendors

Our biggest harvest yet – 95 lbs of honey.

May honey 2019
May honey, 2019

Spring was good to us with its profusion of blackberry blossoms which yielded hives full of pale and delicious honey.   We put our daughter and her boyfriend, JI, in bee suits for the first time and had them smoking and brushing bees, which they greatly enjoyed.  (I’m glad that I was the only one who got stung on their first excursion to the bee yard!  I even restrained my remarks to the bee that crawled up my boot. )

We only checked honey supers above excluders and were still able to pull 95 pounds of honey.   There are full supers with frames that were 3/4 capped last weekend, so we’ll have more to process in the near future.

Decapping
Decapping

As the workshop is still in disarray, we extracted the honey in the kitchen with the four of us working very well together in the cramped space.  JI is a natural at decapping frames and we all took turns cranking the handle on the extractor.  I’d covered the island with a sheet and put towels down on the floor, so clean up was a breeze.  With water and electricity at the shop now, we were able to pressure wash the equipment.  I even had enough energy left to pressure-wash the wood ware that I plan to repaint sometime this week.   (Or do I mean next week?  What day is it? I love summer break!)

The main nectar source right now appears to be elderberry, and the bees are still visiting  buckwheat early in the day.   I’m very happy to see them on the lavender, but I don’t yet have enough lavender for it to make a difference.  I just read that varroa mites don’t like the way lavender smells, so lavender pollen and nectar can help protect bees.  (Source:  Plants for honey bees)   That makes me want to go out and clip more cuttings right now, but I need to wait a while as the plants are currently in full bloom.

Honey May 2019
My first attempt at lavender-infused honey.

I did cut some blooms a couple of days ago for my first attempt at making lavender infused honey.    I know I need more, but I really want to leave as many flowers on the plant for bee-forage as possible.  Some of the recipes I looked at require heating the honey, which I prefer not to do, so I am following a recipe from NectarApothecary.com  that takes 4 – 6 weeks.   I do not have dried blooms, so I know there’s a risk that fresh flowers will make the honey crystallize, but I’m not worried about that as I plan to add it to tea or simply eat it by the spoonful when I have a sore throat!    I know I’m not supposed to disturb the honey, but I can’t resist taking the lid off to inhale the incredible aroma now and then.  It’s only a matter of time before I dunk a teaspoon in, so there may not be much left in the jar by the end of the six weeks….

Honey KegToday we get to find a home (other than the living room) for the Honey Keg and pour our liquid gold into it for storage and eventual easy bottling.  I couldn’t find my mason jars and lids the other day, so it may be time to just have a case of pre-sterilized containers shipped in.   Our previous process of ladling honey into jars in the kitchen sink is going to take too long, but I’m not going to complain about how much honey we have.  After all, our progress means we’re one step closer to being able to retire from our day jobs!

It’s another beautiful day on the farm, and we finally have a chance of rain in the forecast.   Cucumbers, grapes, blackberries, and tomatoes are all getting closer to being edible.  We got to eat four incredible blueberries from one of the new bushes yesterday.  The workshop passed the building inspection yesterday.  Best of all — we no longer have to worry about what is going on with our old house and can now focus on framing the honey shop in the workshop.  It just simply doesn’t get any better than this!

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Pests - Bees · Pests - General · Products and Vendors

Bee Safe!

Amaryllis
Amaryllis – April 2019

Once again we’re under a tornado watch, but the danger is a lot less than a month ago.  We should be out from under the thunderstorms by this afternoon.  Meanwhile, I’m sitting here looking at the rivulets running along the side of the drive and at our beautiful grassy area going across to the well house.  The White Dutch Clover is well enough established to bloom in many places.   Of our 20 acres, we probably have 15 covered with blackberry bushes in full bloom right now.   There is a lot of crimson clover in the orchard.   Everything is really beautiful, but there’s not a bee to be seen on all the things we’ve planted for them.  (Not that we planted the thorny blackberry vines, but we will always leave some patches as a nectar source.)    The bees are clearly finding plenty of resources elsewhere as all hives have multiple frames full of nectar and the bees are drawing lots of beautiful new comb.   As always, we have to recognize that the bees know what the hive needs at this point in time, and they will gather what they want.   We see lots of bees returning from the direction of the creek, so they are either heading toward the deciduous trees or going across the creek to the forest land that was cleared 18 months ago.

I checked most of the hives over spring break — the first week of April.   We are applying ProDFM for the first time this year and seeing good results.   Of course, it’s always difficult to determine whether or not the bees would have done as well without our intervention, but treated hives appear to be thriving better than those we did not treat.   Some of our hives had bees on about half the frames 10 days ago and are now bursting at the seams.  A few hives have open brood and eggs covering four or more frames.

I checked hives that I didn’t get to over break yesterday and pulled out frames with eggs and 1 – 3 day brood and Hubby started our second grafting attempt.  That turned out to be a very efficient way to do that, and after harvesting, we placed those frames into NUCs for walkaways.   That also enabled us to add empty frames to high producing hives.  We didn’t see any swarm cells in those hives yet, but the hives are producing lots of drones, so we need to do what we can to discourage swarm tendencies.

hatched queen cells
Hatched queen cells from grafts

We had 75% success the first time we attempted grafting, but work and weather got in the way of us checking the grafts in a timely manner and the queens hatched and left!   I saw one small queen in the hive that same week, but she must have lost her way on a mating flight.   This time we have NUCs set up to receive any good queen cells.    We split two angry hives into NUCs and only grafted from mellow and productive hives.  If the NUCs build their own queen cells over the next few days, we’ll pinch those off and give them a queen that is more likely to be one we can work with.    (Hubby ended up having to taking shelter under the garden sprinkler to deter some bees that need an attitude adjustment yesterday!)

Our hive beetle problem-corner remains an issue despite a variety of things we’ve tried.   I moved one 10-frame to a NUC over break and that NUC had almost no bees yesterday and a sickening number of SHM larvae wiggling away on the frames.  Hubby is now moving healthy bees from the lower apiary to our sunnier upper apiary, but he’s not moving hives up from that one corner.    We will move them to other benches in the lower apiary and treat them, but we don’t want to risk infesting what is currently a good location.   We have had some luck with putting old carpet under one of hive stands in the lower apiary and we’ll use up old carpet that we brought from the house under our new hive stands.   Cheap landscape fabric, Diatomaceous Earth,  and a variety of SHB traps did nothing for the corner closest to the spring although all of those methods helped elsewhere.   We have better landscape fabric under all hive stands in the upper apiary, and we think that is helping.

Raised beds
Raised beds and remaining seedling trays

Talking about landscape fabric, Hubby has built two raised beds so far and we are using heavy landscape fabric on those as well as on the new blueberry and boysenberry patch.   Four varieties of heirloom tomatoes are thriving in the first raised bed and Lemon Cucumber seedlings are ready to be moved into the second one.   The older we get, the less we want to bend down to weed any kind of garden, so raised beds are the way to go!  With rainfall like we just had, they are also a good way to keep soil amendments where we need them instead of seeing them wash down to the creek!   Hubby stacked the blocks without using any mortar to enable us move the beds if they don’t work well in their current location and to allow excess water to escape.   Hubby is going to build a smaller bed for asparagus and everything else will have to live in old Home Depot buckets this year! We’ve gone from gardening in the sandy soil of Columbia, SC to gardening in clay.   I must say that almost all of our transplants are doing far better here than they ever did at the old house.

There’s lots of “Hubby did this” and “Hubby is going to do this” in this post, but that’s not because I’ve become a lady of luxury.   I’m a very frustrated bee-keeper dealing with tendonitis in my right ankle/calf!   I made a lot of progress over spring break, but walking around the classroom last week set me back again.  Still,  my ankle looks and feels a whole lot better than a month ago, and I know from past experiences that being patient now provide a better outcome by summer.   Not that I’m really being patient — I guess being proactive would be a better term.   When have I ever been patient?

The storms have passed and the rain has stopped, so it’s time for me to take a trip around the farm in the golf cart before settling down to grade essays and write lesson plans.   Hubby has also cooked something that smells delicious, so eating is probably my first priority.   We have come through another storm front without damage and bees, trees, and vegetables are all doing well.   Life is good on the farm.

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees

What an odd year!

Beekeeping this year has been very different than the previous four years.  The rain and the tree-felling across the creek eliminated the usual summer dearth here at the farm, but the bees have been bringing in so much nectar they haven’t been converting as much as usual to honey.   It’s a good problem to have, in some ways, but the abundance of resources has corresponded to an abundance of wax moths and small hive beetles.   Our very first hive succumbed to wax moths before we even knew what wax moths were, and, up until 2 weeks ago that was the worst I’d ever seen.   Now I’ve seen worse twice and used once-beautiful frames as fire-starters.   Like us, my brother-in-law has been surprised by the hives that have been invaded as they were strong the week before they were dead.   Of course, it may be that they weakened because of a swarm, which is the other anomaly for us — fall swarms.

It’s been like spring out there in the bee yard as far as swarms go.   Well, maybe not quite like spring because the swarms are smaller, but the frequency has been surprising.   We’ve managed to entice most of them into new homes — some apparently wanted to upgrade while others wanted to downsize!   Last Wednesday’s swarm seems quite content in its NUC.

Deer
Not a great picture, but a great memory — a deer seen from our bedroom window.

Other fun stuff on the farm has been the sighting of a deer by the compost bin, huge deer tracks down by the memory garden, and a variety of other tracks that I am becoming able to identify fairly accurately.   I also saw the largest buck I’ve ever seen on my way to work on Friday — and it just stood on the verge and let me drive by, thank goodness.  I see plenty of deer that decided unsuccessfully to play Frogger along the 30 mile commute.

I haven’t been in the bee yard or much of anywhere this weekend my body has given up fighting the onslaught of germs that goes hand-in-hand with the start of any school year.  It’s been frustrating because there were so many things I had planned for Saturday, but instead I spent half the day at the doctor and the other half sleeping.   At this moment I feel better than at any time in weeks, so I will hopefully have some good pictures and real farm news soon.

Life in the country remains a joy.   I can’t count how many mornings I’ve been stunned by the night-sky and wowed by a beautiful sunrise.   And while I’m not a fan of thunderstorms, lightening flashing behind the pine trees is a thing of beauty.    The closing of Columbia schools this week gave me an extra couple of days with Hubby, so life is, as always, good.

Bee Stings · Construction · Gardening · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Queen Bee · Storage

Slowly Moving West

We have started taking plants and boxes of household goods to the farm — just what will fit in the vehicles each time and what we have had time to pack.  Most of the bee stuff is down there now, which makes getting around in the 40-foot container challenging!   Still, the bees are rapidly going through the frames we’ve built, so empty totes come back to the city with us in time to be refilled.

Shop Site
Shop Site

Building the shop has become a priority so that we have more space to put things and so that we have a clean space to sling honey this summer.  As we want to sell in Georgia, we need to be certified in Georgia.   Hubby spent most of the weekend leveling the shop site and was working on trenching to install conduit last time I talked to him.   (I came back early to get laundry done for the week.)    Our neighbor has been a great help, both in terms of giving advice and helping on the tractor.   His company will be pouring the slab next week and then the construction can start.  It’s exciting!

Spring border
Daffodil, iris, crinum lily, and other spring transplants.

Even though there was a lot to get done, hubby was still willing to help me get spring bulbs transplanted.  They’re all looking rather sad right now, but I know from experience that they’ll look great next spring, if not before.   The grass and wildflower seeds are doing well, and I added some clover seed and fertilizer yesterday.   If we can just get enough growing to slow down the erosion, we’ll have a less muddy driveway when we get those Southern downpours!   The drainage ditches hubby, my brother-in-law, and I have cut are making a huge difference, and plants will just be the final touch we need.

Smoker
Smoker with new bellows

Of course, we didn’t neglect the bees this weekend, even with all the other tasks we needed to accomplish.    We had to replace the bellows on one of our smokers, and we love this new Pro Bellow from Mann Lake.   There’s a nozzle at the bottom that blows air directly into the smoker, and that has made it easier to get the smoker lit.   I’ll let you know how it holds up, but for now I’m sold!

I intended to just check the queenless hives, but we ended up checking all the hives for space after seeing how much nectar the bees have brought in over the past week.   Two hives have already started capping honey, and I only saw three small hive beetles all day.  There were no new wasp nests started in lids, but there were enough cockroaches on top of inner covers to keep the hair on the back of my neck standing up!   Talking of hair — if you have short hair, don’t pull your hat too tight — hubby got stung on his head through his cap yesterday!

Bricks on hives
Bricks on hives to indicate which hives have queens, and which do not.

We continue to use a combination of methods to track what’s going on in hives.   A flat brick indicates that the hive has a laying queen, and an upright means that the hive is queenless.   In addition, I write notes on the lids with a Sharpie.  We have three hives with queen cells that have hatched since last weekend, but I didn’t see a queen yesterday, so I like having that history at my fingertips when I go to recheck.   Then we have a spreadsheet in which we track hive inspections, treatments, and mite counts.    That’s becoming quite time-consuming and I’m working on automating some of the reporting and tracking, although I probably won’t get much done until summer.   As my new school starts the new year 3 weeks earlier than South Carolina schools, and we need to get this house on the market, and build the workshop, and move my work clothes, I may not find much time to refine the database while keeping up with a growing apiary!    It’s a good set of problems to have!

We’re looking forward to May’s Mid-Carolina Beekeeper Association meeting on Tuesday.  Has it really been a month since the last meeting?   Time flies in spring, which is why we all have to get hive equipment ready in winter!

Enjoy the (finally) warmer weather and take time to smell the roses.

Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Pests - Bees · Queen Bee

The Return of the Hives!

Blackberry flowers
Blackberry flowers

One good thing about this time of year is that I can perform full checks of 18 hives in just a couple of hours!   While I’d hate to see so few bees and no honey come June, it sure is nice to be able to knock out half the bee yard before lunch without even breaking a sweat.

My feeling about the blackberry bushes is the reverse.  Right now, I’m happy to see all the flowers because they are such a good nectar source and our bees are bringing in lots of lovely nectar and pollen right now.   However, as soon as the blackberry bushes stop blooming, I’ll get hubby to hook the cutter up to the tractor and I’ll mow down all the ones that are growing like the weeds they are along our trails.   They are quite welcome to keep growing off the trails for now — at least until after I make another batch of blackberry-apple jam.

The bees are doing great and so far there are very few small hive beetles in the new yard.   Most of the hives are beetle free, but 3 had wasps starting nests under the lids.   Two were yellow jackets and one was a red wasp — I’m not sure which I like least.   Well maybe I do — I like the ones that are gone!

The new bees that hubby bought in Jesup are very friendly.   Some of the hives are outgrowing their space, while others are just plodding along.   The packages he bought all still have their queens and they are laying, but some of the queens he bought separately are nowhere to be found.  We’re pretty sure that not being able to install them right away contributed to those losses, but at least the remaining ones are making up for lost time.   We tried introducing a NUC with an weak  queen from last year to a hive that had become queenless this spring, but that failed.   The hive itself is incredibly strong, but no queen — unless she’s out on a mating flight.    It seems to me that they would have preferred a weak queen to no queen at all, but bees don’t always make sense.

Yellow Columbines
Yellow Columbines — Columbines grow so much better in the clay here than in the sandy soil back in the city!

It’s nice to be back and see the grass seed sprouting along the driveway along with what might be wildflowers from the seed my friend sent for my birthday.    I also have spring onions growing and one lonely squash plant.   Last week, hubby thought something had been snacking in the temporary vegetable beds, so that plant might not be even there next weekend — or it may be surrounded by other plants.   We did get to eat one strawberry each this afternoon and are looking forward to more in years to come.

It still seems a little surreal that I will be here full time soon.   For now, we’re bringing one or two boxes of stuff with us each time we drive down.   I don’t think either one of us wants to think about packing up the house until we get to the end of the school year, but when the mood strikes I do gather stuff to take to Goodwill.   We are both pack-rats, but as we’re downsizing some things just have to go.   Maggie, the dog, is just so much happier here so I’m sure she’d pack for us while we’re at work if she knew how.

It’s been a productive and tiring day, but I’ll be going to sleep stress free and with a big smile on my face.   Every trip reaffirms that buying this land was the perfect decision for us and our future.   Happy spring, everyone — it seems like it might be sticking around this time!